With Liberty and Justice: The Fifty Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai

Maggid   2018


Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is a paean to observance of the laws of God's Torah. In it, the Psalmist offers 176 verses praising the the value and guidance of biblical law. It is in the spirit of this psalm, particularly verse sixty-two—"At midnight I will raise to give thanks unto Thee because of Thy righteous ordinances"—that retired senator Joe Lieberman offers readers his new book With Liberty and Justice. The volume, co-written with Rabbi Ari Kahn of Bar Ilan University, consists of fifty brief essays reflecting on the value of law in general, and Jewish law in particular. They are meant to be read sequentially over the fifty days between the start of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot, which marks God's giving of the Torah, a holiday during which many Jews study Torah all night. During this seven-week period known as "the counting of the Omer," one reflects on the journey undertaken by the ancient Israelites after their exodus from Egypt, which culminated in receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

As Lieberman notes, while the holiday of Passover and its primary ritual, the seder, is observed by many Jews who otherwise consider themselves unobservant, the holiday of Shavuot is much less known among Jews and non-Jews alike. Making a case for the value of biblical law—the inextricable "other half" of the Exodus from Egypt—Lieberman guides his readers (explicitly intended to be both Jews and non-Jews) toward an understanding of the Jewish holiday that marks "the dawn of justice."

In accessible mini-chapters, Lieberman recalls scenes from his youth, including his days as a Yale Law School student and speaking at a rally before Martin Luther King Jr. He also discusses more recent events, such as publishing a book about the Sabbath which inspired the Mormon president of Brigham Young University to more devotedly observe his own day of rest. Lieberman additionally reflects on a range of law-centered topics, including the aforementioned Passover seder, Earth Day, the Ten Commandments, the legal profession, the Book of Ruth, Bill Clinton's impeachment, and a 1924 speech Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook gave in Philadelphia's Independence Hall on the value of liberty. Readers of all ages and backgrounds have much to gain from Lieberman, whose fealty to law, both American and biblical, continues to inspire people of faith the world over.

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